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Time traveling probably still remains as one of man's greatest dreams.
Though impossible to achieve in reality, we always remember that
there's Doraemon and his gadgets that can help realize those
possibilities. Doraemon, the robot cat from the future, has traveled
back in time along with Sewashi, Nobita's (aka Da Xiong) descendant.
They went back to the past to help 10 year old Nobita fix the mess so
his descendants need not suffer the consequences. Sewashi leaves
Doraemon behind, installing a program in him that disallows him from
going back to the future till Nobita attains happiness.
As you might already know, Nobita is known for his cowardice and wimpy behavior. Once he realized how powerful Doraemon's gadgets can be, he simply relies on them and attempts at making the game change. However, as you might expect, the gadgets have limitations. Ultimately, it depends on one's will and resolve that can truly break through the circumstances. Nobita fails and try again, growing out of his wimpy self and eventually overcomes the challenges.
Stand by Me has a very simple, engaging and easy-to-follow story. There's nothing too drastic or dramatic to expect, which could disappoint some who are looking for something stimulating. The entire story also has a hint of nostalgia. It's easy to identify with the young Nobita, since virtually everyone goes through that 'rite of passage' of growing up. The character development of Nobita though not multifaceted, has enough depth and gives a good support to the narrative.
Visually wise, the 3D animated Doraemon might require some getting used to since it is not that 2D one which we are familiar to watching on TV. (Don't we all have some fond childhood memories of catching Doraemon on our local channel on weekend mornings?) Yet, this has got to be the cutest and most adorable Doraemon to date. With his vivid expressions, it's impossible not to like!
The entire 3D environment was also a masterwork. Not only were they very realistic, even the sound effects and background chatter were worked down to great details. Further, you really have to give it to the Japanese for having such great voice actors. They probably have the world's best, and thanks to them, the entire movie was truly 'animated'.
Overall, Stand by Me is one entertaining film that's surprisingly touching as well. This has to be the blockbuster of the Doraemon movies released thus far. Subtly but surely, Stand by Me gives you and me a stark reminder that 'your life is the sum of your choices'.
How do you get people to listen to you tell a story that they already
know the ending to, or worse, have heard countless times before? Ridley
Scott's answer to that, in the case of his swords- and-scandals epic
based upon the well-known Biblical tale, is spectacle.
Indeed, in 'Exodus: Gods and Kings', Scott has spared no expense to make sure that Egypt comes vividly to life, or that the ten plagues are given as much luscious detail as necessary, or that the parting of the Red Sea is a truly humbling sight to behold so much so that even the most imaginative mind will probably be awed over by the sheer spectacle that he has conjured. Yes, if there's one thing that Scott has succeeded in doing with his Old Testament blockbuster, it is in reminding both believers and non-believers alike just how remarkable and awe-inspiring the mighty hand and power God wields over the elements of nature and the fates of men.
Against such gargantuan forces, the question remains: is there room for the individual to matter? God's plan certainly did as believers will tell you, his plans of salvation through the ages have always rested on the faiths of individual men and women who were willing to put aside their doubts and trust wholeheartedly in the providence of their almighty Creator. So it is with this tale, that God's plan of salvation for the Israelites would rest on one man, Moses a logical thinker and in Scott's interpretation here, an agnostic who would be challenged through visions to recognise his Hebrew identity, and in doing so, embrace his role in that grand plan as the leader of God's people.
Unfortunately, not even a quartet of writers (Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine and Oscar winner Steven Zaillian) have been able to ensure that the man isn't drowned out in Scott's show of spectacle. Not enough attention is paid to developing the brotherly bond between Moses and his half-brother Ramses, or their simmering rivalry arising from the aging Pharaoh's (John Turturro) favour of the former. Ditto for Moses' subsequent awakening to his lineage and to God's call through the 'burning bush' neither of these turning points feel that they matter as much as they should. Most sorely however is how the screenplay fails to portray Moses' ambivalence towards God's methods, reduced simply to a couple of lines delivered with perfunctory angst by Christian Bale "You don't always agree with me," is as far as a response that the writers have managed to come up with.
Lamentably so therefore, this fails to be as it should a story of one man as much as it is a story about God. Moses never quite comes to life despite being front and centre no thanks to an underdeveloped script that doesn't make the character as compelling as he should be, and worse, feeds him cringe-worthy lines from time to time that border on caricature. Bale is best when he is given a complex character to play, but since he isn't afforded that here, hardly cracks the surface of what could have been an intriguing and multi-faceted personality. The same in fact can be said of every other actor in Scott's ensemble from Joel Edgerton as the eyeliner-drawn Ramses, to Ben Kingsley as a wise Jewish elder, and even to a barely-present Sigourney Weaver as the scheming pharaoh's wife Tuya, each one of the notable cast members struggles to rise above his or her thinly drawn role.
Though the script lets him down, Scott's strengths as a director remain undiminished. An early attack by the Egyptians on the rival Hittites tribe camped outside the gates of Egypt showcases Scott's grasp of scale, thrillingly lensed by his regular d.p. Dariusz Wolski with a combination of soaring overhead shots and up close combat footage. Scott takes artistic license to interpret the ten plagues as a series of interconnected events, rather than as discrete happenings, which in turn allows him to not only build a smooth elegant narrative but also maintain a palpable feeling of tension throughout God's 'punishment' of the Israelites.
His boldest choice as helmer however has to be his depiction of God, whom Moses first meets at the 'bush' and thereafter in the wilderness just before every major calamity. Scott cannot be ignorant of the implications of portraying God as a small young boy, but whether this is meant to represent the kind of disposition which God expects of his followers or to signify the capricious nature of God is left up to the viewer's interpretation. What is clear is that Scott keeps to an Old Testament God of wrath, so don't go expecting this God to be nice, calm or benign for that matter and you'll probably do well to keep in mind that this is the God that has watched his people suffer in pain, blood and death the indignities that the Egyptians have lashed on them for the past 400 years.
Unlike 'Noah' however, you can rest assured that Scott largely takes a much more conventional reading to the Biblical story; instead, Scott's intention is really to fashion a swords-and-scandals saga in the mould of 'Gladiator' by way of a well-known story with ostensible religious overtones. And in that regard, 'Exodus: Gods and Kings' is an unvarnished triumph that will leave you awe-struck. Those who know the story will also recognise it as Moses' faith formation, and whether Scott's telling has that same transformative effect on his audience is necessarily suspect. But up till the very last frame where an elderly Moses finally arrives near the land of Canaan, you can be sure that there is never a dull moment to be found in this lavish, extravagant and yet oddly alienating epic that could do with a much more humanly centre.
If there's one thing we've learnt from 'The Descent', it's that tight
spaces make for good claustrophobic horror. That seems to be the idea
behind 'The Pyramid', which sends an archaeological team into the
depths of an ancient pyramid which has just been unearthed in the
Egyptian desert. Aside from the opening scenes, most of the rest of the
movie takes place within the narrow corridors or rooms within the
pyramid, which in itself does generate a veritable sense of dread.
Whether it was the intention of screenwriters Daniel Meersand and Nick Simon at the start or that of director Gregory Levasseur later on isn't clear, but 'The Pyramid' follows the recent trend of horror movies in adopting the found-footage format. Largely, that is. The majority of the shots originate from British cameraman Fitzie's (James Buckley) point of view, which also means that the key characters we see on screen most of the time are father-and-daughter pair Holden (Denis O'Hare) and Nora (Ashley Hinshaw) and award- chasing filmmaker Sunni (Christa- Marie Nicola). Only when it seems technically possible to have a first- person p.o.v. shot does Levasseur switch to more traditional modes of shot composition and framing, in particular when all but one of the members of the team is left.
Truth be told, we've never really been a big fan of found-footage horror, in part because most filmmakers use technique as an excuse for poor plotting, thinking that just having their characters run and/or scream down dimly lit hallways and getting surprised by things that jump out at them and the audience makes for a movie. To some extent, Levasseur and his writers are guilty of that as well, relying too conveniently on rote jump scares to deliver the thrills, which any seasoned horror fan can probably anticipate when and what is coming at them.
But thankfully, the Egyptology-themed setting isn't completely wasted; the last third of the movie is steeped in religious mythology, in particular the appearance of a part-man part-jackal creature better known in ancient Egyptian history as an "Anubis" and its role in an ancient funerary rite known as the "Weighing of the Heart". This isn't the family-friendly adventure that 'The Mummy' and its sequels ever was; indeed, coming from producer Alexandre Aja of 'The Hills Have Eyes', you should certainly be prepared for some pretty gory shocking scenes, including one that is clearly inspired by an iconic shot from 'Aliens' (you know, the one from the back?).
Not all the movie is that intriguing though; for a good part where the group is making its way through the narrow underground tunnels, the pace drags because none of the characters are particularly interesting in and of themselves. What effort spent introducing some conflict between them also falls flat, as Nora's criticism of Fitzie's obsession to get their ordeal down on camera is over and done with in just one scene not least for the fact that she becomes the one to hold on to his camera and document the proceedings after something unfortunate befalls him.
You'll probably do well lowering your expectations if you've decided to watch 'The Pyramid', which seems content to revel in B-movie tropes than to be anything truly inspiring by itself. To its credit, it doesn't entirely squander its titular Egyptian theme, though for that matter, it also doesn't fully exploit it as well. What longtime Aja screenwriter Levasseur has managed in his directorial debut is to show he can mount a perfectly credible but mediocre found-footage horror, which is only as memorable as the time it takes for another B-grade horror to come along.
Four years after making waves in Chinese cinema with the ambitious and
yet immensely satisfying 'Red Cliff', John Woo has taken that metaphor
literally in yet another expensive historical epic diptych. Widely
dubbed as China's answer to Hollywood's 'Titanic', it is built around
the sinking of the steamer Taiping after its collision with another
vessel while en route from Shanghai to Taiwan's Keelung Harbour on
January 27, 1949, leading to the deaths of over 1,000 refugees fleeing
the rule of the Communists at the height of the Chinese Civil War. But
to set expectations right, you won't even get to see the start of that
doomed voyage by the end of this movie, which really is meant to
establish three different sets of characters whose fates converge on
board the Taiping.
Given the historical context, Woo has chosen to ground this opening half against the backdrop of the conflict between the Nationalists and the Communists that gripped China at the turn of the half- century. Indeed, each of these characters find their stories set in motion by the revolution on one hand, the stoic and honourable General Lei Yi Fang (Huang Xiaoming) of the National Revolutionary Army fighting a losing battle at the frontlines, his beautiful socialite wife Zhou Yun Fen (Song Hye-Kyo) waiting for his safe return in Taiwan, and his comrade-in-arms Tong Da Qing (Tong Dawei); and on the other, the nurse Yu Zhen (Zhang Ziyi) searching for her long-lost lover by volunteering at a makeshift hospital in Shanghai for the wounded as well as the Taiwanese doctor Yan Ze Kun (Takeshi Kaneshiro) also looking for his long-lost Japanese lover Noriko (Masami Nagasawa).
Over the course of two hours, Woo's screenwriter Wang Hui-Ling plots the intersecting paths of these characters with varying results. Of the three characters pining to be reunited with their loves Yi Fang, Yu Zhen and Ze Kun the last gets the shortest shrift, despite having potentially the most interesting arc. Ze Kun's mother's objections to his relationship with Noriko is only given cursory mention, and doesn't go much further beyond the fact that Noriko is of the same race as the Japanese imperialists who had before occupied the island. Yu Zhen's determination to be reunited with her lover at the frontlines of battle at least resonates in parts because of the extent that she is willing to go to search for him, even sacrificing her 'body' so she can save enough money to buy a ticket to Taiwan where he may be.
But the bulk of the screen time is dedicated to Yi Fang, or more precisely, his frustration at being made to wait out for weeks with hundreds of starving troops in the cold snowy mountains while his superiors consolidate their positions in much better environments. Much to our relief, Yi Fang spends most of the second half of the movie apart from his wife Yun Fen. Ironic as it may be, their time spent apart from each other is more moving than that spent together, which make up a total of four utterly cringe-worthy scenes.
Notwithstanding that Woo has consciously made this film in the vein of 'Casablanca' or 'Gone with the Wind', it is precisely the romance at the heart of each of the three overlapping stories that is its weakest link. Woo doesn't so much romanticise the proceedings than drench them in syrup, and let's just say if you had goosebumps from what passed between Leonardo DiCaprio's Jack and Kate Winslet's Rose, then you'll be literally breaking out in cold sweat here. The only relationship that doesn't come off hokey is strictly speaking only half a romance, and that is of Da Qing's yearning for Yu Zhen, with whom he paid off to pass off as his wife in a photo so he can get more rations.
Those hoping for the sort of grand battle sequences in 'Red Cliff' will probably be sorely disappointed as well. As much as Woo doesn't shy away from portraying the carnage of war, there is none of the thrill that comes simply from a properly choreographed sequence. There's no doubt war is a messy affair, but there is too little semblance of continuity between the gratuitous shots of scores of soldiers charging at each other or vehicles getting eviscerated from underneath. The fact that too many of them happen in slo-mo is even more ingratiating, exacerbated by the blatant framing of some shots meant as feeble justification for the higher 3D price in selected theatres.
No doubt for commercial reasons, Huang spends more time on screen than any other character, but the actor is either too stoic in his scenes with Song or too expressionless as that of a commander forced to watch his men starve, freeze and eventually die. Zhang fares much better as the devoted lover willing to sacrifice all to be reunited with the man she loves; hers is unequivocally a more nuanced performance balancing determination and vulnerability. Kaneshiro is sorely wasted in a role that is acutely underdeveloped, and even the lesser-billed Tong is given a more substantive character to work with.
It's no secret that 'The Crossing' is Woo's passion project. Unfortunately, Woo has chosen to make this first part by way of a wartime romance, and while Woo has shown he can be good with the former, he proves here for the first time that he is quite inept with the latter. That clumsiness has unfortunately crossed over to his portrayal of the former, which frankly lacks persuasion or poignancy. Seeing as how different the concluding chapter will likely be from the first, we hope Woo will pick up the pieces and forge a more compelling voyage come six months later.
'Women Who Flirt' sees director Pang Ho Cheung take a creative sojourn
from his Hong Kong-set dramas like 'Aberdeen' and comedies like
'Vulgaria' by engaging in some shamelessly commercial pursuits.
Inspired by the self-help book 'Everyone Loves Tender Woman' by
Loverman, this Mainland-based rom-com has a tomboyish girl Angie (Zhou
Xun) pick up the tricks of flirting from a gaggle of female friends who
call themselves the 'Barbie Army' in order to win the affections of her
best friend Marco (Huang Xiaoming), whom she has always been secretly
in love with, after he falls for a Taiwanese girl called Hailey (Tang
Sui) skilled in the art of 'sa jiao'.
Though Pang has personally penned this big-screen adaptation together with his 'Love in the Buff' collaborator Luk Yee-Sum and newcomer Zhang Youyou, his latest displays little of the witticisms that fans of his works us included look forward to. At least his maiden foray into Mainland filmmaking, 'Love in the Buff', retained his distinctive voice while staying within the safe zone of the notorious censors (remember the joke about the air stewardess or the music video Shawn Yue made to prove his sincerity to Miriam Yeung?); save for the occasional amusing references to Patrick Swayze's 'Ghost' and Andrew Lau's 'The Guillotines', this is indistinguishable from the crop of rom-coms that have become a staple of the Mainland box office, no thanks to a voracious appetite from the genre from audiences there.
Much of the humour is derived (and derivative) from gender stereotypes, or more specifically, that of women which men tend to gravitate towards. From taking every opportunity to showcase maximum cleavage to saying 'I hate you' in a mischievously high-pitched girlish pout to giving men the chance to feel protective over a woman, Pang up-ends each one of these manipulative techniques women supposedly use in order to get men to fall hopelessly head over heels. There is some fun to be had in watching these tricks of the flirting trade being outed for what they are, but the pleasures afforded by these jokes are shallow, fleeting and grow increasingly tiresome.
Thankfully, Zhou Xun's spirited delivery ensures that their repetitiveness does not completely ingratiate. Her diminutive frame and husky voice don't make her the prototype Asian girl for rom- coms, but that is precisely why she is perfectly cast in the role. When she casts doubt on her makeover consultants' 'one-two-five' Tinder-ready selfies, you believe that her cynicism is genuine. When she eventually decides to tear into her 'love opponent's' seductive moves, you'll applaud her comebacks. Zhou's screwball comic timing is impeccable, and her considerable charm is a huge reason why the movie remains lively and entertaining in parts.
If the humour is mostly silly and shallow, the romance is sadly artificial. Except for a couple of flashbacks which establish Angie and Marco as college buddies who shared much platonic banter and several playful moments together, there is little else that convinces just why Angie would be in love with Marco or why Marco is in fact in love with Angie as well but just doesn't know it yet. Even more perplexing is how Pang rationalises the latter, which falls to some hokey premise about how Marco is in fact "gay" for having been brought up without a maternal figure and is therefore perfectly matched with the masculine Angie. Unlike Chun Jiao and Zhi Ming in Pang's previous two rom-coms 'Love with a Puff' and 'Love in the Buff', you'll be hard-pressed to believe that there is genuine affection in Angie and Marco's relationship, or for that matter, that the pair make a good couple.
Like we said at the beginning, 'Women Who Flirt' finds Pang at his most ready-to-please, forgoing his usual sensibilities for a wholly commercial product that is certainly poised to do well at the Mainland box office. If all you're looking for is a light, frothy and forgettable time, then you'll find your share of disposable pleasures here; but anyone else looking for the Pang Ho Cheung of contemporary classics like 'You Shoot, I Shoot' and 'Exodus' would be advised to flirt with something else instead.
No less than two decades have passed since Jet Li took up the iconic
role of Wong Fei Hung in Tsui Hark's classic 'Once Upon A Time in
China' series, and for good reason, no filmmaker for that matter has
dared mount a similar big-screen version of the renowned folk hero.
Until now of course 'Rise of the Legend' sees Hong Kong director Roy
Chow Hin-Yeung step up to the challenge of re-making a legend by way of
an origin story, casting rising Taiwanese actor Eddie Peng as the
We're sad to disappoint fans of Peng, but the actor is simply no substitute for Li. The comparison, unfair as it may be, is inevitable, because Li had so completely inhabited the character that the very first impression which comes to mind when one thinks of the character is Li himself. While he may project enough confidence and fresh- faced charm to convince as a younger and brasher Wong Fei Hung, Peng simply lacks his predecessor's poise and nuance to make his portrayal as dignified and compelling.
A lot of Peng's performance doesn't go much further than posturing, alternating between a smug self-confident demeanour when with the members of the villainous Black Tiger gang whom he infiltrates to dismantle from within and a spirited show of grit (not unlike that which he displayed in 'Unbeatable' as an MMA-fighter) when taking on his opponents fist-to-fist. Only when he gets the occasional reprieve to hang out with his childhood buddies Fiery (Jing Boran) and Chun (Wang Luodan) do we see a more sincere and earnest performance from Peng, but these scenes given the covert nature of his character's personal mission are sadly few and far in-between.
Though he may have the athleticism and physique (we're talking oiled-up pecs and rippling abs here) to boot, Peng lacks the physicality of someone who's trained in the martial arts. Indeed, that is too ostensible in the action sequences directed by veteran choreographer Corey Yuen, which in narrower high-walled alleyway settings is filmed with the sort of artistic distractions emulating last year's 'The Grandmasters' complete with rainwater, (plenty of) slo-mo shots and p.o.v. framing that sees Peng look rather than truly impress and in more expansive locations relies too heavily on the use of wirework to augment Peng's moves (or lack thereof). The fact that the fight sequences aren't as exciting as they should be isn't Peng's fault alone no doubt, but, unfortunate as it may be, it still is too clear Peng isn't a natural performer the way other luminaries like Li, Jackie Chan or Gordon Liu were.
To be sure, Peng is hardly the start of 'Rise's' problems, which, though absorbing in parts, has its obvious flaws. Though intended as a story to explain the origins of Wong Fei Hung, Christine To's script hardly gives the character much depth. A few flashback sequences show Wong's father (Tony Leung Kar-Fai) imparting some words of wisdom about saving people which he continues to hold dear as well as how a brief stint at a monastery transformed his sense of vengeance following his father's death at the hands of some local thugs to one seeking justice, but come off obligatory rather than poignant. There is even less time to get to know Fei Hung when Peng takes over as a young adult, as To has him too busy caught up in the plot machineries of a gangland thriller than to build a multi- faceted portrait of him other than the already established fact of his inimitable sense of righteousness.
Not that the colourful underworld comprising of Sammo Hung as Master Lei, the leader of the Black Tiger gang, and his adoptive sons North Evil (Jack Feng), Black Crow (Byron Mann) and Old Snake isn't entertaining; there is good fun to be had in watching Fei- Hung, Fiery and Chun destabilise the squabbling trio and their domineering head from within as Fei-Hung wins Master Lei's trust by killing the head of the rival North Sea gang to become his fourth adoptive son and without with Fiery and Chun leading the poor, hungry and oppressed men on the streets under the banner of the Orphan gang against the Black Tigers. To weaves quite an ingenious scheme here, so much so that Chow's filming struggles to keep up, and there are scenes which would clearly have benefited from the direction of a stronger helmer.
That is probably also part of the reason why To's attempt to paint Fei Hung as a man with a big dream of restoring justice to the masses, who stuck with his ideals even though they came at a hefty personal cost, isn't quite as rousing as it is meant to be. Yes, sacrifice figures heavily in the third act, but because the friendship between Fei Hung and his childhood buddies doesn't get enough screen time to be fully fleshed out, the eventual denouement awaiting some of them, in particular as it relates to Fei Hung, is less moving and persuasive.
Whereas one would have expected a character-driven narrative for this origin story of Wong Fei Hung, Chow and To (whose previous collaborations include the unintentionally hilarious detective thriller 'Murderer' and a middling follow-up 'Nightfall') opt instead for a plot-driven one that transplants the elements of a gangland thriller into a martial arts actioner. The result is more the former than the latter, so those expecting some thrilling fight sequences will surely come off disappointed more so after a lacklustre showdown between Peng and Hung in a blazing warehouse where the two do more staring at each other and asking each other how 'hot' it is than fighting. For now, this 'Legend' remains firmly with Li and Tsui Hark, whose 'Once Upon A Time in China' remains the only Wong Fei Hung you need to know.
As much as 'A Fantastic Ghost Wedding' has been sold as a crowd-
pleasing comedy, it really isn't very funny at all. Yes, those looking
for the kind of broad laughs in the vein of Hong Kong comedian Sandra
Ng's 'All's Well Ends Well' or our very own Mark Lee's 'Money No
Enough' series will probably come off disappointed, because there are
few singularly hilarious laugh-out-loud moments to be found here. But
that doesn't mean you should simply dismiss this first pairing between
Ng and Lee, for what it lacks in terms of humour, it sure makes up for
in thoughtfulness and poignancy.
Credit that to Meng Ong's script, based upon his own story, which deals with the themes of love, loss and letting go with (pleasantly) surprising nuance. This is one of those movies where the synopsis doesn't do it any justice, because though it is ostensibly about a father-son medium pair (played by Lee and newcomer Keane Chan) helping a grieving mother (Ng) to find a wife for her deceased son in the afterlife, there is so much more about Ng's relationship with her son or Lee's own with his Boy and their parallels that a simple one-paragraph description cannot quite fully articulate.
That said, aside from the initial meet-greet (arising from a recommendation from Marcus Chin's shopowner of paper offerings for the dead) and a montage of sequences thereafter of the ritual proper, Ng and Lee don't share the screen as much as one may have expected. Instead, Ong, who also directs the movie, divides Ng's time threeways one, between her and her husband (Jim Chim) whom she has grown increasingly distant from since their son's death; two, visions of her and her son in the afterlife against nicely CG- ed backdrops of paper bungalows, cars, and even an aeroplane; and finally between her and Lee's Master Wong, whom she largely regards as no more than a conman.
On the other hand, Lee balances his time with Ng against that with his own son alone, as Ong portrays how their unconventional trade has come at the expense of Boy's friendships with his classmates (who shun him for being someone who consorts with ghosts) as well as that of his time needed for homework and preparing for examinations. Boy also gets to come to terms with a mother he never knew, in particular through a heart-breaking sequence which sees him try to summon his mother's spirit in order to communicate with her, only to have his own belief in the existence of ghosts challenged when she doesn't show up (for good reason, we may add).
That is a lot to go on for a 97-minute movie, and the fact that Ong manages to develop each of these overlapping but largely separate plot lines is praise-worthy in itself. Each of them coalesce beautifully around the central themes mentioned earlier, and it is towards the end when we see Ong tying them all together for a climax built on a wedding ceremony between the living and the dead that we fully comprehend Ong's intention for the movie as a whole. In Ng and Lee's relationships with their children, and in that of how Ng and Chan deal with the absence of a loved one, Ong meditates on how our tendencies to dictate the way that we love, whether is it by clinging on to the ones we love or freeing them from the confines of our biases and mindsets, ultimately makes not just us miserable but also the very people we love.
What few commentators have touched upon, but what we feel deserves special mention here, is its delicate handling of a possibly homosexual relationship between Ng's son Peng (Wang Po-Chieh) and Ryan (Kenji Fitzgerald). At the expense of spoiling one of the many surprises of the movie, let's just say that it isn't any coincidence that the person who picks up the diamond ring which Peng's mother offers to find his bride is this white-skinned fellow at the exact spot of his death, and what comes after is testament to Ong's maturity as a director and perhaps one of the most subtle treatment we have seen of a potentially controversial but no less relevant subject in a local movie.
It is befitting then that, although Ng and Lee are known for their 'mo lei tau' personalities in other movies, both actors have toned down their more outright comedic sensibilities here. Ng doesn't overplay her character's neuroticism; instead, she easily wins empathy for her gentle portrayal of a mother who is forced, after his death, to come to terms with just how domineering she has been with her son all along. Lee also has good chemistry with Chan, who is also forced to recognise that his blind insistence that his son follow in the footsteps of the family's 'medium' business has made him unable to communicate with his son and at risk of losing the Boy altogether. Ng has good banter with both Lee and Chim, and the choice of casting a Hong Kong actor next to Ng as her husband is an inspired one that makes for a more natural delivery in the former's native Cantonese tongue.
To say that we were surprised by how much we enjoyed 'A Fantastic Ghost Wedding' is an understatement. Indeed, this is one of the very best local films of the year that boasts a multi-layered yet well- developed script, solid direction (without any of the glaring continuity errors we so often see), and engaging performances from a regional cast most significantly to us, it tackles several complex subjects with confidence, thoughtfulness and nuance. No matter really that it isn't as funny as it has tried to sell itself to be, because it is in refusing to be built on such easier and forgettable pleasures that it manages to be something truly moving and compelling in its own right.
With the shot of an arrow, Katniss Everdeen demolished the annual
Hunger Games and set in motion a rebellion that may very well overthrow
the totalitarian rule of the Capitol which has held sway over the
people in twelve Districts for the past 75 years. But to get to that
point of the struggle, Katniss needs to be transformed from a survivor
into an icon, a symbol that would come to represent what the revolution
stands for in order to rally the people from the Districts to come
forth from fear and join in the armed struggle.
Opinion will certainly be divided whether the concluding book in Suzanne Collins' 'Hunger Games' trilogy should have been split into two movies, but unlike other similarly cleaved YA-franchises, the verdict is very much clearer in this case whether 'Mockingjay' merits that split. By leaving the inevitable showdown between the rebels and the Capitol for another film, this prelude instead leaves enough breathing room for itself to be an intimately sombre character study of Katniss, the reluctant heroine from District 12 who over the course of two years of her life and two iterations of the to-the-death bloodsport found herself in a position to become a leader of a cause, but at a tremendous price not just personally but also collaterally.
Even though the Games are done, Katniss remains the traumatised centre of this penultimate chapter. Her rescuer, Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman), and the leader of the rebel cause, District 13's President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), want Katniss to be the star of a series of propaganda videos (or "propos"), but as her former mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) shrewdly observes, Katniss has never done well following orders. Instead, her transformation would have to come from within, and this is in fact her two-hour coming-of-age story.
Wisely choosing not to antagonise rabid fans of Collins' books, screenwriters Peter Craig and Danny Strong (both newcomers to the franchise) remain thoroughly faithful to the book. From a solo visit to District 12 to see firsthand what is left of it to another tour of the equally ravaged District 8 where the dead, the dying and the starving are crammed in the same makeshift hospital, Katniss' witness of the extent of Snow's brutality and her empathy for its victims will eventually fuel her fire to rage defiance against the Capitol's President Snow (Donald Sutherland). But Snow has his own spokesman Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), her fellow tribute from District 12 and no less than her lover; Peeta is Snow's weapon against Katniss, 'hijacked' by Snow and put on Capitol TV to plead with Katniss to back down.
Not like in the Games, Katniss' trials here are more psychological than physical, so those expecting the same straightforward page- turning thrills of 'Catching Fire' will probably be quite disappointed. Gone is the colourful world of the Games, and in its place an austere subterranean environment where everyone dresses in boiler suits and even the formerly flamboyant Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) has to forgo her wigs and make-up. That change of pace and place isn't however a bad thing at all, for it does allow us the space and time to fully appreciate the emotional depth of Jennifer Lawrence's acting.
More than in the other two films, Lawrence is simply tremendous here, conveying so many different shades within the same character vulnerability as evidenced by how quickly she is seized by helplessness when she sees Peeta on TV, doubt in the her wariness towards President Coin and her spin doctor Plutarch, but most importantly her fierce determination when she turns towards the camera and delivers a personal message to Snow: "if we burn, you burn with us". Lawrence has always been the beating heart of this dystopian saga, and by letting Katniss' bow and arrow take a backseat to her emotional struggles, this chapter sees Lawrence deliver her most soulful, stirring and storm-raging performance yet.
She finds plenty of support in similar acting heavyweights Moore, Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright and Sutherland. Such an ensemble may seem out of place in a YA- franchise, but their participation also indicates their confidence in the material. There is rich political subtext here about waging a revolution, not simply in military strategy but also in a more significant battle of the minds, wills and hearts. It was an inspired choice for Strong to be chosen as screenwriter his previous work on HBO's 'Recount and 'Game Change' as well as last year's 'Lee Daniels' The Butler' certainly reveals his proclivities and thankfully, returning director Francis Lawrence grasps the nuances in Strong's adaptation acutely and assuredly.
He may not be the Lawrence in front of the camera, but this Lawrence behind it guides the proceedings with poise and élan, confidently balancing the action and politics while finding just the right tone that never comes across too heavy-handed on either tragedy or melodrama, managing to even insert some moments of levity (courtesy of Effie and Haymitch). The opening half hour could be tighter, but once the film gets into its stride, you'll find it just as gripping as the earlier films, in particular a daring raid under the cover of darkness into the heart of the Capitol's Tribute Centre to rescue the victors of the Games most prominently Peeta.
It does necessarily end on a cliffhanger, but this mid-sentence pause feels much more organic than say that of the 'Harry Potter' or 'Twilight' series. If you've just wanted a wham-bang thriller, then we say go re-watch 'Catching Fire'; indeed, Collins' trilogy was never meant to be just that. Without resorting to any voiceovers, this deliberately-paced but no less engrossing chapter retains the book's first-person, present-tense perspective of Katniss while losing none of the political allegory that Collins had intended from the very start. It may not catch fire, but it is a slow-burner that nonetheless captivates, enthralls and thrills.
No longer just scene-stealing sideshows, the penguin quartet from the
'Madagascar' trilogy get their own feature-length spin off in the
palpably-titled 'Penguins of Madagascar'. Skipper (Tom McGrath) is
their natural-born leader. Kowalski (Chris Miller) is the brains of
their hare-brained operations. Rico (Conrad Vernon) is too honest with
his words and too eager with his flippers. And then there's the cute
and cuddly Private (Christopher Knights), whose role in the team seems
only to provide the occasional amusement for Skipper, despite his
sincerest attempts at trying to convince the latter that he can do
Eschewing the 'lion/zebra/giraffe/hippopotamus-out-of-water' routine of the 'Madagascar' films, their solo outing sees the penguins caught up in international espionage with a certain Dr Octavius Brine (John Malkovich). Turns out that the penguins and Dr Brine share some common history together at the New York Central Park Zoo Dr Brine was the eight-legged centrepiece attraction at the Zoo named Dave until the penguins came along and stole all the limelight and attention. Faced with the same fate at every other zoo since, Dr Brine then hatched a plan to steal every single penguin from each of the zoos he's been at and turn them into something else altogether using his 'Medusa' serum.
Those expecting an origin story will realise soon after a hilarious prologue set in the Antarctica that this was never meant to be that. Instead, the opening is as much background to the penguins as you'll get, beginning with a young Skipper inciting Kowalski and Rico to break away from their flock in order to find greater purpose in their lives than simply conforming to nature. So when an egg (which will eventually hatch to bear Private) rolls along their way, they decide to give chase, with a documentary crew (bearing Werner Herzog in voice-over) in hot pursuit. A run-in with some leopard seals and an unintended explosion later, our heroes are set adrift on a bed of floating ice.
How they eventually end up in Central Park Zoo is a story for another day, as the trio of screenwriters - John Aboud, Michael Colton and Brandon Sawyer fast-forward to the point in 'Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted' where they separate from Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria by blasting off in a cannon at the circus (remember Marty's 'Afro Circus' dance) and infiltrate a highly secured facility filled with gold bars in order to get at a different kind of gold that is, a whole vending machine of golden- coloured 'Cheesy Dibbles' just for Private on the occasion of his birthday.
Alas, Dr Brine lies in wait for them, and their globe-trotting adventure that starts in Venice spent escaping Dr Brine's tentacled army of octopuses spans Shanghai, Rio de Janeiro and finally New York. Each destination is an opportunity for directors Eric Darnell (who co-directed each one of the 'Madagascar' films) and newcomer Simon J. Smith to stage a massive action setpiece that unfolds with the kind of unpredictability and inventiveness true to the penguins' improvisational nature. There's no point trying to describe any of them to you, because they really are meant to dazzle and astound on a visual level; and that they do with plenty of whiz-bang energy and pizazz, the sheer gloriousness of it even more amazing when viewed in 3D.
It isn't just the action that forces you to keep up; just as fast and furious are the witty one-liners that had us in stitches. Skipper is responsible for many of them (Dr Brine: "I see you've met my old zoo mates"; Skipper: "We were never mates. There was no mating."), while Dr Brine gets most of the rest, most notably a recurring gag involving celebrity-name puns ("Nicolas, cage them!", "Drew, Barry, more!", "Charlize, they're on the ray!"). Kudos to the writers for putting something in there for the adults, even though this is ostensibly a kids-driven animation.
The frenetic pacing does come at the expense of characterisation though, so besides Skipper coming into his own as a valued and significant member of the team, there isn't much or for that matter, anyone else that you'll identify with. Indeed, even lesser attention is paid to the undercover task force dubbed 'North Wind' that also has the mission objective of stopping Dr Brine in mind, whether the headstrong wolf leader Agent Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch), the appropriately-named explosives specialist seal Short Fuse (Ken Jeong), the cool and beautiful owl Eva (Annet Mahendru) whom Kowalski has a crush on, or the brawny polar bear Corporal (Peter Stormare) who can't resist hugging them penguins.
That said, we hardly suspect that you or the kids will mind. 'Penguins of Madagascar' is made with but one intention, and that is as a fast-paced, quick-witted, high-energy action adventure to thrill, entertain and delight its audience. On each and every one of those counts, it succeeds tremendously, and we dare say that we had more outright fun in this movie than in any other animation we've seen this year. If there's one thing we've learnt from this solo outing, it's that 'Madagascar' has gone the way of the penguins.
Over post-it notes exchanged across the office windows of two adjacent
towers in the heart of Hong Kong's financial district, Louis Koo's
dashingly handsome but hopelessly philandering wealth management CEO
Cheung Shen Ran pursued the pretty and vivacious financial analyst Chen
Zixin. But Zixin was also simultaneously courted by the handsome
architect Fang Qihong (Daniel Wu), who was dependable, faithful,
committed and basically the exact opposite of Shen Ran.
Teasing their audience right to the very end, the dynamic writing- directing duo of Johnnie To and Wai Kar Fai eventually let their female protagonist pick the safer choice. It is one year later where this sequel opens that we are reunited with Shen Ran and Zixin, the latter just weeks away from her impending nuptials with Qihong. The former? Well, he's as much a flirt as before, but as we find out soon after, he is actually still very much hung up on Zixin, even going to the extent of renting the apartment which she used to stay.
Johnnie To's success in his home territory has always been with crowd-pleasing rom-coms like 'Needing Me, Needing You' and 'Love On A Diet'. This sequel, as well as its predecessor, fits in squarely in many ways it is frothy, light-hearted, and filled with zany moments that few like To/ Kar Fai will dare to pull off and do so with aplomb. And indeed, To establishes this with a hilarious opening sequence that deserves praise in itself for being able to juggle so many characters at the same time.
There is Zixin, who is trying out her wedding dress in a bridal shop and waiting for her brother Paul (Vic Chou) to arrive. Paul is caught in a jam because Yang Yang Yang (Miriam Yeung) is terrible at parallel parking her Ferrari and has been trying to squeeze her vehicle into a tight spot along a narrow street. Yang Yang wishes for a handsome guy to offer his help and (voila!) Shen Ran pops up by her window. It just so happens that both are in the area to look for office space for their respective companies, and when Yang Yang sees Shen Ran in the window of the opposite building, she waves excitedly to him and gestures for him to meet downstairs for coffee but really Shen Ran is gesturing instead to another hot(ter) Eurasian girl in the same building as Yang Yang. Before that misunderstanding is sorted out downstairs, Zixin throws herself at Yang Yang and begs her for a job because the latter is apparently acclaimed as a 'Goddess of Stocks'. And before the day is over, Paul would have made Yang Yang's acquaintance in the same way Shen Ran did earlier, but Yang Yang would also have hooked up with Shen Ran.
It's a lot to keep up with, and it is firmly to To's credit that his audience remains engaged and not bewildered by the end of this flurry of happenings. Oh, and by the way, if you're wondering where Qihong is in the midst of all this, well he remains unfortunately in Suzhou on a project and sits out the Tennessee Waltz of changing partners. Yes, instead of five characters fighting for each other's attention and affections, there is really only four. Wai, who co- wrote the script with original scribe Ryker Chan and Yu Xi, chooses to let the audience favourite character, Qihong, sit out most of the movie to its own demise, because none of the ones we spend much of the time with and that includes the French-spouting Qihong, who comes off less romantic than pretentious are anything near endearing. On the contrary, Shen Ran, Zixin and Yang Yang are fickle and capricious, so we find it hard-pressed to root for any of them.
Short of a deeper emotional connection with any of the main characters, we are left instead to indulge in their whimsicalities and thankfully, there are a couple of fairly entertaining sequences here. One of these highlights sees the introduction of a clairvoyant octopus named Genie (clearly influenced by the similarly gifted Paul the Octopus) which Yang Yang and Paul (haha get it?) rescue from a seafood restaurant in Sai Kung, a self-aware narrative element meant that references Zixin's pet toad in the previous film. Another riotous sequence has Shen Ran and his loyal effeminate assistant (Lam Suet) scrambling to keep the former's bevy of flight-attendant girlfriends in separate office rooms who appear simultaneously at his company to celebrate his birthday after Hurricane Sandy grounds all U.S.-bound air traffic.
It is in that same screwball spirit that Wai wraps the shenanigans up with Shen Ran scaling the very skyscraper Qihong built for Zixin in a last-ditch attempt to declare his love for her on her wedding day itself. We won't spoil any surprise here, but suffice to say that besides Zixin, Yang Yang's own love triangle with Paul and Shen Ran also gets its resolution by the time the credits roll. Is it as poignant as the conclusion the last time round? Hardly, but like we said, this is all about the laughs and less about anything meaningful or poignant. It still is fun hanging out with such a high-powered ensemble for two hours, which is one of the pleasures that this sequel offers.
But to answer the inevitable question whether it is necessary? It's probably clear by now that it isn't, motivated less by creative instinct than by commercial imperative. Yes, it's no secret that 'Don't Go Breaking My Heart' was one of To and Wai's biggest hits in recent years, not least for the star-studded cast, and this sequel makes no apologies that it is simply out to entertain, shallow and artificial as the emotions it asks us to believe in are. It is a far lesser movie than its predecessor no doubt, but those looking for a superficially pleasing outing should be satisfied.
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